Plant an Italian garden |

Plant an Italian garden

JoAnne Skelly
For the Appeal

Mama mia! I love Italian food and its wonderful ingredients – pasta, pesto, garlic, tomatoes, basil, eggplant and more. If you share my enthusiasm for savory Italian dishes, how about planting an Italian garden?

Italian herbs include basil (basilico), rosemary (rosemarino), sage (salvio), parsley (prezzemolo), oregano (oregano), and thyme (timo). Basil is a primary ingredient in many Italian dishes. This annual is a sun-lover that needs well-drained soil and just a bit of fertilizer. Pinching plants keeps them bushy and your taste buds delighted. Remove flower spikes to improve leaf production. Basil comes in many varieties and colors and is available from seed or transplants.

Rosemary is drought-tolerant and can rot if overwatered. Since it withstands temperatures to 0 degrees, it is a “borderline” perennial in our climate. In a good site, it can grow up to 2 to 4 feet in our area. It is often found trailing over walls in Mediterranean climates. It blooms with beautiful blue to lavender flowers and is attractive to bees.

Whether you choose common sage, pineapple sage, or one of the many other sage varieties, you will find this full-sun herb easy to grow. Common sage is a shrubby perennial, growing to 3 feet tall by 2 feet wide. Known for its purple, violet, pink, or white flower spikes, it is a lovely addition to any garden.

Italian parsley has flat leaves rather than curly ones. It thrives when kept moist and given shade in the afternoon. I have planted it successfully from seed and from transplants. Soak seeds for 24 hours before planting them. Seeds can take weeks to sprout. Books say parsley seeds have to go to the devil and back before sprouting. Flowers are rarely seen, since they develop in the second year of growth. It is best to replant parsley each year.

Oregano and thyme grow well in full sun and must have well-drained soil. Both flower and attract bees. They are easy to grow and come in many varieties. Oregano can be used in hanging baskets and containers. Or, try planting it so that it can drape over some rocks for a nice effect. Creeping thyme is a terrific alternative ground cover in dry, sunny sites.

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Combine these herbs with tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, and eggplant to create delicious Italian meals. Add them to roasts or chicken and take your taste buds to Italy.

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For information on gardening, contact me, 887-2252 or, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at “Ask a Master Gardener” by e-mailing

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.